Restaurants still struggling as unemployment nears pre-COVID-19 levels: industry body

Food service businesses are facing a hiring shortage. Global News

Amid the damage the COVID-19 pandemic has wrought is thousands of Canadians losing their jobs, many continuing to struggle to find work and some industries finding it very difficult to find staff to fill vacant positions.

Although Statistics Canada says unemployment, in general, has returned to pre-pandemic levels, difficulties continue for the food service industry — which an executive at the Canadian Restaurant Association says has a very visible impact.

“It’s fewer hours, it’s people having to change their menus to make it simpler so you can serve people with less staff,” said James Rillett, the association’s vice-president for central Canada.

“Some (restaurants) are closing one or two days a week, when normally they wouldn’t. It’s having to redeploy staff, and in many cases, it’s that the owner has to work a few extra shifts.

“When we were facing all these lockdowns and from week to week, people didn’t know whether restaurants would be open or not, a lot of people just said, ‘I owe it to my family and myself to get a job that I know will be here from week to week.'”

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Rillett said the impact of the pandemic has led to the need for a culture shift in the industry.

“I think the industry is in a place where they say we need to make sure people see these as career jobs, and that they can start in a restaurant and move their way up — and maybe become an owner or a manager or an executive in food companies,” he said.

Around 3,000 restaurant jobs that were taken up by valuable employees in Manitoba before COVID-19 remain unfilled, according to labour statistics.

Canada’s labour force is measured monthly by Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, which director for labour market information Vince Dale says is one of StatCan’s most important studies.

“Every month, we select a sample of what we call dwellings … and we go and contact the people in those dwellings, and we ask them a series of questions about their labour force activities — whether they worked, whether they looked for work, if they weren’t in the labour market, what they were doing,” he said.

“So, basically, we take a snapshot every month of about 50,000 households in Canada, and the data that’s collected through that process is what ultimately ends up as the unemployment rate.”

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Dale said statistics from both sides of the equation — the supply (the people) and the demand (the businesses) — are used to come up with an accurate picture of the country’s employment situation each month.

Wage fluctuations are an important part of that picture, and are compared with statistics from other Stats Canada researchers who measure inflation.

“That’s been challenging,” he said, “because the mix of employment in Canada has varied considerably over the last 18 months due to COVID.”

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